Have you ever sat down to complete an important task — and then suddenly discovered you were up loading the dishwasher or engrossed in the Wikipedia entry about Chernobyl? Or perhaps you suddenly realize that the dog needs to be fed, emails need to be answered, your ceiling fan needs dusting — or maybe you should go ahead and have lunch, even though it’s only 11 a.m.?
Next thing you know, it’s the end of the day and your important task remains unfinished.
According to two of the world's leading experts on procrastination: Joseph Ferrari, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at De Paul University in Chicago, and Timothy Pychyl, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, these are:
Ten things to know about procrastination:
This is a good time to bring some science into our discussion. Behavioral psychology research has revealed a phenomenon called “time inconsistency,” which helps explain why procrastination seems to pull us in despite our good intentions. Time inconsistency refers to the tendency of the human brain to value immediate rewards more highly than future rewards.
The best way to understand this is by imagining that you have two selves: your Present Self and your Future Self. When you set goals for yourself — like losing weight or writing a book or learning a language — you are actually making plans for your Future Self. You are envisioning what you want your life to be like in the future. Researchers have found that when you think about your Future Self, it is quite easy for your brain to see the value in taking actions with long-term benefits. The Future Self values long-term rewards.
However, while the Future Self can set goals, only the Present Self can take action. When the time comes to make a decision, you are no longer making a choice for your Future Self. Now you are in the present moment, and your brain is thinking about the Present Self. Researchers have discovered that the Present Self really likes instant gratification, not long-term payoff.
So, the Present Self and the Future Self are often at odds with one another. The Future Self wants to be trim and fit, but the Present Self wants a donut. Sure, everyone knows you should eat healthy today to avoid being overweight in 10 years. But consequences like an increased risk for diabetes or heart failure are years away.
As in this video where present Homer talks to future Homer: https://youtu.be/jQvvmT3ab80
Reasons for Our Procrastination Habits
For every action there is a cause — a trigger of sorts that instantly brings forth decisions and behaviors that lead to daily and lifelong consequences that many of us accept without question.
Fear Driven Procrastination
Action Driven Procrastination
Habit Driven Procrastination
Feeling Driven Procrastination
Procrastination Triggered through “Lack”
Unfulfilled Life Experiences and Circumstances
When we are unfulfilled with certain aspects of our lives, this can naturally lead to uncharacteristic self-sabotaging behaviors that lead us down the procrastination spiral.
Finally, procrastination can also evolve through a set of interlinking childhood experiences that we naturally accepted into our psyche at an age and time when we knew no better. This very much involves unconscious experiences that we struggle with on a constant basis throughout our lives.
5 ways to stop procrastinating by Timothy Pychyl:
1) Time travel: How to counteract the irrationality of human nature.
As Piers Steel makes clear in temporal motivation theory and Dan Gilbert shows in his work on affective forecasting, we are not merely irrational but predictably so. We discount future rewards as less important than a task at hand, particularly if it's a more pleasant activity, and we really aren't very good at predicting how we'll feel in the future.
"Time travel" can help here. That is, we need to use concrete mental images of the future more often and more accurately, to represent the future as though it were happening in the present. For example, a person who is procrastinating on saving for retirement might imagine as vividly as possible living on his or her potential retirement savings. To make a future image like this more concrete and accurate, it may be important to set out some numbers for a budget and take into account the reality of the need for and increasing expense of health care in old age. Planning shouldn't be an abstract notion of "doing it tomorrow." Think about the task in the real context of the day, and think carefully about how these tasks make you feel. This strategy will help you prepare for tip #2.
2) Don't give in to feeling good: Short-term gain, long-term pain.
When self-regulation fails, it's often because short-term emotional repair takes precedence over our long-term goals. For example, a task at hand makes us feel anxious or overwhelmed, so we "give in to feel good," seeking immediate emotional relief, and we walk away, leaving the task for tomorrow.
Here's where emotional intelligence is so important to procrastinating less. Learn to recognize that we can have negative emotions without acting on them. Stay put for a minute—don't walk away. Don't give in to "I'll feel more like it tomorrow." Acknowledge the negative emotions, but get started anyway. Progress on a goal provides the motivation for another step forward. Just get started; the negative emotions will pass.
3) Reduce uncertainty and distractions.
Planning is one thing; action is another. In fact, what can make a task aversive to us when we're simply making an intention or planning is how meaningful a goal is. The less meaningful the goal, the less likely we'll want to do the task. However, when it's time to act, aversive tasks—those we're most likely to procrastinate on—are those for which we're uncertain how to proceed. We're most likely to procrastinate on tasks that lack structure.
This means that in addition to making your task concrete (see tip #1), it's important to reduce the uncertainty about how to proceed—and, when it's time to act, to reduce available distractions as well. Shut off your e-mail, isolate yourself as much as you can, and make sure the environment around you is working to strengthen your willpower and focus, not to undermine your efforts. Speaking of willpower…
4) Willpower: How to make the most of the willpower muscle.
A great deal of recent research clearly indicates that willpower is like a muscle. You can exhaust it more quickly than you might imagine and, when you do, you lose your ability to self-regulate your behavior. One immediate method to strengthen your resolve in order to keep you on task is to remind yourself of your values. This process of self-affirmation bolsters our flagging reserves of willpower.
5) Another self-regulatory boost can come from mindfulness meditation. Attention is the first step in self-regulation, so learning to keep focused attention will help you procrastinate less by strengthening self-regulation.
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